United (1981)

This album was recorded with Woody’s working band of the period, and features Steve Turre (tbn), Mulgrew Miller (pno), Stafford James (bs) and Tony Reedus (dr). This was Woody’s second working quintet and was formed in late 1980, disbanding in July 1983. Gary Bartz also guests on alto for two tunes, What Is This Thing Called Love and Blues For Wood.

This album has been seen as heralding a more straight ahead approach for the new quintet. Woody is definitely the star of the show, with far more solo space than anyone else, but his playing is always strong and full of ideas. The pentatonic approach is less evident on this recording than in some previous recordings. One aspect of Woody’s playing noticable on this album is an increased use of incredibly fast scalic runs, a device often used by Freddie Hubbard. Two of Woody’s compositions on this album are based on other tunes – The Green Street Caper is based on the chords to On Green Dolphin Street, while the chords to Blues For Wood are similar to those in Mingus’ Nostalgia In Times Square. Mulgrew Miller’s tune Pressing The Issue is probably the tune most linked to what Woody had been doing in the 1970s, featuring strange harmonies and wierd chord changes for the soloists to explore, and Woody solos brilliantly on this tune. It also features the juxtaposition of swing and latin feels found in many tunes on Woody’s albums up to this point. Whilst this album could in some ways be seen as a backward step in Woody’s forward thinking approach, the playing on the album is very strong throughout and the players manage to keep up a stream of fresh ideas despite revisiting some tunes and chord changes from the past.

Blackstone Legacy (1970)

Blackstone Legacy is Woody’s debut album as a leader and features Gary BartzĀ and Bennie Maupin on saxophones, George Cables on keyboards, Ron Carter and Clint Houston on basses, and Lenny White on drums. The album is regarded as Woody’s answer to Bitches Brew, released the previous year, and some of the tracks are very reminiscent of the Miles Davis classic – the free funk number New World sounds particularly indebted to Miles. However, Blackstone Legacy is more than an attempt to copy Miles’ achievements, and some of the tunes are more reminiscent of an Ornette Coleman time-no-changes feel – for example, the up-tempo Lost and Found.

Whilst the playing on the album is generally extremely inventive and interesting to listen to, Woody at times sounds at times like he is trying a bit too hard, resulting in overblowing and a diminishing of tone quality, as well as occasionally a shaky time feel. However, having said this, his playing on a few of the tracks is inspired, particularly on New World. He sounds very similar to Freddie Hubbard in places, but you can also hear occasions where his own unique voice and harmonic language burst through. The lengthy solos and harmonic freedom give all the soloists a chance to experiment and try out new ideas.

Woody wrote four tunes for the album, with George Cables supplying the other two. The written heads are all interesting in themselves and serve as suitable springboards for lengthy improvisations. Woody’s compositions Blackstone Legacy and Boo-Ann’s Grand are particularly compelling and provide an insight into how Woody was approaching music at this time – I will definitely be transcribing these tunes and trying them out myself.